Why Privacy Isn't Everything: Feminist Reflections on Personal Accountability

Posted: 16 Feb 2004

See all articles by Anita L. Allen

Anita L. Allen

University of Pennsylvania Law School


Accountability operates implicitly in the fields of public administration and corporate governance. Accountability imperatives drive the law of tort and crime. Accountability should not and cannot be total in any domain short of dystopia. Still, in every sector of society a degree of accountability for conduct is critical. In the United States, as in other places, accountability and concerns about accountability range beyond the affairs of government and business enterprises whose stake-holders decry daft decision-making and disappointing bottom lines. Flourishing accountability practices and policies including the legal, moral, and other social norms central to this book examine and evaluate what goes on in the personal and intimate arenas.

This book is about accountability in and for private life in the United States. Seemingly by definition, we are supposed to be unaccountable for what we term private life and accountable for the less precious rest of life. However, accountability for the uses of intimacy is a common imperative, expectation and deeply felt obligation in our society. As individuals, couples, families, and communities we live lives enmeshed in webs of accountability for conduct that include accountability for intimacies relating to sex, health, child rearing, finances, and other matters termed private. The aim of this book is a series of thick descriptions of the say that others have in our nominally private lives. It is nothing new to point out that government has a complex and thorough-going say. Nor is it novel to note that our employers, insurance companies, and families have a say. This book contributes a fuller sense of how, why, and to whom we are accountable for our personal lives, stressing more than others have both the varieties of accountability and the variety of people to whom we are expected to answer; its highly contextual discussions seek to illuminate accountability for private life demanded of intimacy and gender equality; family and ethno-racial community; and public trust and leadership. The picture that emerges is that of highly social actors enmeshed in flexible but sticky webs of accountability that restrain without curtailing most individual freedoms. So long as we stick without, in the main, getting stuck, we remain personally and politically free.

Suggested Citation

Allen, Anita L., Why Privacy Isn't Everything: Feminist Reflections on Personal Accountability. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=503263

Anita L. Allen (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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